Baptized into Obedience

Wesley Chapel Episcopal Church, Wesley Chapel, FL
Preacher: The Rev. Adrienne R. Hymes
January 12, 2020 ● The Baptism of Our Lord
Gospel: Matthew 3:13-17

Mother Hymes’ sermon on the Feast of The Baptism of Our Lord (Gospel:Matthew 3:13-17).

Posted by Wesley Chapel Episcopal Church on Sunday, January 12, 2020

Over the years it has become glaringly apparent to me that all baptized persons must be reminded that we are to share in the priesthood of Christ.  There seems to be a disconnect in what we are called to do, what we are capable of doing, and what we are empowered to do.  It is the job of church leadership to uplift the gifts of the congregation and to extend invitations to partner in new ministry opportunities.  Somehow the message of “clergy leaders and lay leaders,” is often misinterpreted as “clergy leaders and lay followers.”

More than 15 years ago, I experienced a pivotal shift in my thinking, initiated by one statement, and a smile from my priest.  At coffee hour, a woman, who appeared to be homeless, and afflicted by some type of mental illness, approached me. Out of all of the people at coffee hour, she came to me to ask for help.  At the time, I had the mindset, like so many, that I couldn’t possibly help her,  pray for her, or even make a difference in her life.  She was very fidgety, so I begged her to wait while I went to get a priest to help her.  I found one of the priests, and explained the situation to him. I said, “I’m not a minister or anything, so I hope you can help her.”

Fr. Rick recognized that I was operating with a sense of unworthiness in my ability to serve the needs of my neighbor. He simply looked at me, smiled, grabbed my hand and said, “Adrienne, we are all ministers.” We walked, hand-in-hand, and went to the woman together to pray for her, and offer assistance. My priest empowered me to step into my rightful place as a minister in the church and to partner with him in the work.  We are all ministers called, by God, on a shared mission of obedience to God’s will.

Today we witness an adult Jesus, on a mission of obedience, whose divinity is witnessed by John the Baptist and all gathered at the baptisms taking place at the river Jordan. The intimate setting of the home for the Christ Child in Bethlehem is now a very public setting, in which the deeply intimate activity of God, and the deeply communal activity of God are made manifest through the presence and actions of Jesus.

The first verse in our gospel clearly established that Jesus was on a mission to be baptized by John. Jesus went from Galilee to the Jordan where John was going about his life’s work of baptizing people with water as they confessed their sins. In the two verses just before the start of our passage, John had just told the gathered crowd that the one who was more powerful than him would baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire.

Knowing Jesus’ identity, and recognizing him as his superior, John initially responded with hesitation, questioning why Jesus would come to him to be baptized when he believed it was to be the other way around. Jesus’ response cut straight through John’s expressed sense of unworthiness to perform the baptism. “Let it be so now,” said Jesus, “for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.”  And without further questioning John consented.  Jesus’ words, “fulfill all righteousness,” help us to better understand John’s movement from hesitation to compliance. Fulfill, means to do or to accomplish. And righteousness, as it is used here, means right conduct in accordance with God’s will as revealed in scripture. John consented to baptizing Jesus because it would serve God’s will. Obedience to God directed Jesus’ steps to John and obedience to God directed John to baptize Jesus.

When Jesus emerged from the water, the text says that the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and settling on him. There is no indication that others witnessed these divine events.

In this moment we, the readers, witness the very intimate encounter between Jesus and God.  In that same encounter, the voice from heaven publicly pronounced, “This is my son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”[1]

A major theme of Matthew’s gospel, written for a Jewish community, is Jesus’ fulfillment of the Jewish Law. This passage doesn’t focus on the washing away of sins of a sinless Jesus; it is laser-focused on Jesus’ identity as the long-awaited Messiah, who is the fulfillment of Jewish Law, and that his baptism by John fulfilled scripture. Jesus’ baptism was the necessary public anointing by the Holy Spirit to establish his identity and authority as the long-awaited Jewish Messiah.

When Jesus told John, “it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness,” he was calling him into a partnership of obedience to God through the action baptism. Jesus submitted to John’s baptism and was anointed by the Holy Spirit as the Messiah, the Christ.[2]  Regardless of John’s own sense of unworthiness, by virtue of Jesus’ invitation to partner with him, he was indeed proved worthy.

As Jesus came to John, He comes to us. As Jesus invited John to partner with him in the fulfillment of God’s will, He invites us to partner with him. By virtue of our baptism into Jesus’ death and resurrection, any self-perceptions of unworthiness that may cause faithful people to hesitate to obediently serve Jesus as he commands, must necessarily disappear into God’s perception of our belovedness.

Shortly, we will renew our baptismal vows. Throughout this renewal of the vows we are reminded as individuals, and as the Church, that we, as Jesus was in his public ministry, are empowered by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit to go forth in our shared ministry of building up the kingdom of God. When we affirm the vows with, “I will with God’s help,” remember that you are agreeing to partner with God in His mission already-at-work in the world. Remember that you have the blue print of the Baptismal Covenant[3] which equips you to do the work that you have already been empowered to do by the Holy Spirit.

Invite people to engage this sacred space in which the deeply intimate activity of the Trinitarian God, and the deeply communal activity of the Trinitarian God lovingly and necessarily collide to heal the wounded and restore the broken. Invite people to be nurtured in prayer and spiritual practices that make space for the Holy Spirit to alight on us and indwell us.

Witness to the gifts of our God who assures us that we are worthy; that we are uniquely equipped; and that we are His beloved so that those who do not yet know Christ may come to believe that through Him, they, too, are God’s beloved. “Let it be so now for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.”   Amen.

 

[1] Matthew 3:17

[2] Holy Baptism, “Thanksgiving over the Water.” BCP, p. 307

[3] Baptismal Covenant. BCP, pp. 304-305.